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Our Friendly Skies

March 02, 2007

By Rod Martin, Planetarium Resource Teacher

and Andy Smetzer, Tristate Astronomers

Lunar eclipse

The highlight of the month occurs on March 3 during the full moon. The first total lunar eclipse in several years will be visible early in the evening. In fact, it will be in progress as the moon rises.

That night, the sun sets at 6:05 p.m. and the moon rises at 6 p.m. The moon will be in Earth's shadow as it rises. The Moon should have a copper color and darker than usual. Often it is red at moonrise when full, but this should be more orange and dark. The moon will not disappear completely during the eclipse because light can refract through Earth's atmosphere and reach the moon, hence the red-orange color.

Totality ends at 6:58 p.m. and the partial phase ends at 10:12 p.m.

It is perfectly safe to view a lunar eclipse. No special precautions are needed because you will be viewing subdued light reflected from the moon.

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The Tristate Astronomers are planning a public star party to allow interested people to see the eclipse through their telescopes. Visit their Web site at www.tristateastronomers.org for more information.

The solar system

Visible evening planets:

VENUS is very bright in the western sky.

SATURN is in the east at twilight and high around midnight.

Visible morning planets:

JUPITER is high in the south at sunrise.

MERCURY is visible low in the east during the first week.

MARS rises during twilight.

This month, Venus continues its impressive showing. At magnitude -3.8, it is a brilliant beacon in the western sky setting about three hours after the sun.

Opposite it in the sky is the ringed world, Saturn. Saturn resides within the constellation Leo the Lion. At 0.0 magnitude, it is about as bright as the brighter nearby stars. A small telescope is needed to see the rings. Saturn reaches its highest position in the sky around 10 p.m.

The brightest morning planet is Jupiter, the giant. At -2 magnitude in Ophiuchus, the planet displays its cloud structure and four larger moons. It rises a little after midnight and is high in the south by morning twilight.

Mars is faint in Capricornus at +1.5 magnitude. It's not easy to see because it rises at the beginning of morning twilight and is faint.

Mercury puts on a fair display the first week of March. It should be visible in the eastern morning sky.

Sun and moon

The sun rose at 6:44 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and set at 6:02 p.m. EST on March 1, for 11 hours and 18 minutes of daylight. Since the sun reaches the vernal equinox on March 20 at 7:09 p.m., the daylight will last longer than nighttime after that date. Spring is here! On March 31, sunrise is at 6:57 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and sunset is at 7:33 p.m. EDT, and there are 12 hours and 36 minutes of daylight.

Yes, you did see EDT. That is earlier than usual because the government decided to extend daylight-saving time this spring. Don't forget to "Spring Forward" your clocks on March 11!

The sun enters the constellation boundary of Pisces on March 12 from the constellation Aquarius.

Full moon is March 3 and marks the time of the total lunar eclipse. Last quarter is March 11. A partial solar eclipse occurs at the new moon of March 18, but it will not be visible here. First quarter moon is on March 25.

Brish Planetarium

The new planetarium program is "StarDate: Ancient Horizons." Learn about the astronomy, pyramids, and beliefs the ancient Egyptians held regarding the sky. Hear about the importance of the constellations Orion and Draco, and the stars Sirius and Thuban.

The program will be held each Tuesday in March and April that schools are in session, except March 6. The program begins promptly at 7 p.m. Admission fees are $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with the WCPS Gold Card are admitted free.

For more information about the planetarium and Tristate Astronomers, visit the Web sites through www.tristateastronomers.org and navigate to the planetarium's page.

To contact the planetarium, send e-mails to martirod@wcboe.k12.md.us.

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